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Late last week the agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor introduced restrictions
Late last week the agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor introduced restrictions on the import of Turkish fruit and vegetables. The supply of tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, lemons and grapes is bound to plummet, and food prices will rise yet again.

Turkey exports fruit and vegetables all year round, but its firms have more than once been caught at supplying low-quality products. This year alone, the Russian agricultural authority has detected excessive concentrations of nitrates, pesticides and nitrites as well as pests in 86 batches of Turkish fruit and vegetables, coming to nearly 4,000 metric tons of food.

The agency has more than once appealed to Turkish Agriculture Minister Mehmet Eker to ensure that suppliers comply with Russian legislation and to more strictly monitor their exports. Since the Turkish authorities have neglected to act on the warning, Rosselkhoznadzor decided to suspend Turkish food imports "because of regular violations of international and Russian requirements."

The embargo will last until Turkey provides safety guarantees for its plant exports to Russia.

Consumers certainly need to be protected from agricultural health hazards, but restrictions will also spur inflation expectations already fuelled by rapidly growing food prices. Plant products have become the main driver of price growth this year. According to the federal statistics service Rosstat, food prices have grown by 35% from January to June this year.

The restriction on Turkish plant imports will inevitably spur prices. At present, Turkish firms supply up to 30% of the tomatoes, eggplants, grapes and lemons sold in Russia, and it will not be easy to find alternative suppliers. Russian farmers cannot fill the gap, because unfair terms forced on them by wholesalers have forced many to curtail production. Domestic crop production went down 4% last year.

An increase in imports from other traditional suppliers of fruit and vegetables will also provoke price rises, because imports from Spain and Latin America are 50%-60% more expensive than Turkish plants. Central Asian tomatoes cost nearly twice as much as Turkish ones.

Russians may still be able to eat their share of fruit and vegetables, however, because Turkish suppliers know quite a few loopholes allowing them to bypass such bans.

Russian sanitary authorities report violations by Turkish suppliers every year. In 2005, Rosselkhoznadzor restricted the import of Turkish fruit and vegetables, but they nevertheless reached the Russian market via other countries, primarily Azerbaijan.

The Russian agricultural authority says it has closed the loopholes this time, but few experts believe them.

Anatoly Kulikov, former interior minister and now board chairman of the World Anti-Criminal and Anti-Terrorist Forum (WAAF), said the Azerbaijani diaspora controls the bulk of outdoor agricultural markets, where criminal groups often sell smuggled goods.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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